New Netflix drama opens old wounds

New Netflix drama opens old wounds
The movie relates the story of Matilda, a Jewish woman recently released from prison who reunites with her teenage daughter. (Supplied)
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Updated 11 November 2021

New Netflix drama opens old wounds

New Netflix drama opens old wounds
  • Turkish-made ‘The Club’ has already left its mark both cinematically and in terms of social awareness

ANKARA: A new Netflix drama, set against the stunning backdrop of 1950s Istanbul, has opened a Pandora’s box in Turkey over the recent history of discrimination toward the country’s Jewish community.

Turkish-made “The Club” has already left its mark both cinematically and in terms of social awareness.

The movie relates the story of Matilda, a Jewish woman recently released from prison and working as a seamstress in a popular Istanbul nightclub, who reunites with her teenage daughter Rasel, who grew up in an orphanage.

The unhappy reunion takes place during a period of social and political turbulence in Turkey coinciding with a wave of religious and racial attacks on the Jewish community.

One of the main “ghosts” that haunt the Netflix drama is the discriminatory wealth tax. Matilda comes from a wealthy Jewish family that lost its fortune after Turkey imposed a tax on non-Muslims in 1942 that was 20 times higher than on Muslims.

In one month alone, more than 1,000 people unable to pay their dues were taken away to a labor camp in the eastern district of Askale where many worked until they died. Matilda lost her father and brother there.

More than 30,000 Jews left Turkey after the imposition of the tax, although it was dropped in 1944 in the wake of intense international pressure.

Nesi Altaras, a member of Turkey’s shrinking Jewish community and editor for the online Jewish publication Avlaremoz, said it was the first time Jews had been genuinely represented on Turkish television as three-dimensional characters as opposed to “evil bankers.”

He told Arab News: “The show does not hold back from explaining reality as it is. It doesn’t make excuses for the discrimination Jews, Greeks, and Armenians endured and continue to face in Turkey. It also makes its audience face the facts on the racist wealth tax of the 1940s, which has all been forgotten by mainstream society.

“The wealth tax isn’t taught in schools or discussed in most media. ‘The Club,’ by outlining the racist policy and calling it out directly, will lead to Turkish people realizing the foundations of contemporary Istanbul,” he said.

Altaras’ grandparents on both sides suffered under the wealth tax, while his great grandfather was sent to the forced labor camp. He noted that the show had reintroduced Turks to the Jews and shed light on the financial and political hardships the Jewish community had faced in recent history.

“Such initiatives will help us to make our voices heard. It is now time to reclaim our equal citizenship rights rather than continuing our decades-long silence. Such Netflix shows are therefore very valuable for this cause,” he added.

Altaras pointed out that the use of Ladino language in the drama by Sephardic Jews was new to many people in Turkey who for decades had lived alongside them. Ladino had been the mother tongue for the majority of Turkish Jews before nationalist attacks against them.

“The level of ignorance is so high that most viewers didn’t even recognize the Ladino being spoken in the show. This has been a learning opportunity and led many new readers to Avlaremoz,” he said.

Ozgur Kaymak, a lecturer at MEF University in Istanbul and an expert on the Jewish community in Turkey, said: “Through this drama, many people from society at large who they know little if anything about, or who they sometimes approach with prejudice to the point of anti-Semitism, get a chance to see that the Jews of Istanbul are in fact one of their own; people with similar issues and concerns, who share joy in a similar way.

“They go to jail, they grow up in an orphanage, they fall in love, and there are also poor Jews,” she added.

Kaymak noted that putting the spotlight on similarities between different religious and ethnic groups in Turkish society could help people realize how coexistence with non-Muslim minority groups was possible today.

“I find this very valuable. Exposing bitter memories such as the wealth tax and Turkification policies is also important, as they hold a heavy place in the memories of the Jews living in Istanbul, even if they are covered and sunk into oblivion,” she said.

She pointed out that the taboo-breaking movie had deconstructed a nostalgic romanticism in Turkish society about “beautiful memories with our non-Muslim neighbors and will push greater segments of society to come to terms with their past.”

Louis Fishman, associate professor at Brooklyn College, told Arab News that while the show highlighted historical injustices committed against Jewish, Greek, and Armenian communities, its impact should be kept in proportion.

“It is a beautifully written and produced series which in no way should be confused as a history lesson. Rather, like good art, it encourages the viewer to ask questions, to learn more, while absorbing them in the daily lives of 1950s Istanbul,” he said.

He added that while the debate around the Jewish community was exciting, the focus should be on a brilliant story about relationships, identities, love, and how the lives of the characters involved were shaped by political events.

The number of Jews living in Turkey has declined from 81,000, recorded in a census in 1927, to 13,000.


Well-known Lebanese journalist Rajeh Khoury succumbs to illness

Well-known Lebanese journalist Rajeh Khoury succumbs to illness
Updated 28 May 2022

Well-known Lebanese journalist Rajeh Khoury succumbs to illness

Well-known Lebanese journalist Rajeh Khoury succumbs to illness

Well-known Lebanese journalist and writer Rajeh Khoury died Friday after struggling to battle with illness, Lebanese and regional media reported.

The late journalist was “one of the distinguished, authentic writers from a generation of great men… who dedicated life and sacrifices for the sake of free speech, truth, and courage that knows no retreat or fear,” An-Nahar announced, one of the press institutions that the late journalist worked for.

An-Nahar lost one of its “pillars and senior writers in the dark nights of Lebanon,” it added.

Khoury, originally from South Lebanon, wrote and contributed wide-ranging content from articles to political analyses for outfits including Al-Aamal, Al-Hawadeth magazine, Al-Hayat, Nidaa Al-Watan, An-Nahar and Asharq Al-Awsat.


Indian writers celebrate first International Booker Prize for Hindi novel

Indian writers celebrate first International Booker Prize for Hindi novel
Updated 28 May 2022

Indian writers celebrate first International Booker Prize for Hindi novel

Indian writers celebrate first International Booker Prize for Hindi novel
  • Geetanjali Shree’s ‘Tomb of Sand,’ translated by Daisy Rockwell, won this year’s prize on Thursday

NEW DELHI: India’s literary world celebrated on Friday as Geetanjali Shree’s “Tomb of Sand” became the first book written in an Indian language to win the prestigious International Booker Prize.

The prize is awarded annually to a book that has been translated into English and published in the United Kingdom and Ireland.  

Shree wrote “Tomb of Sand” (Hindi title “Ret Samadhi”) in 2018. It is a family saga set in the shadow of the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, when British India was split into two independent states — India and Pakistan — triggering one of the largest migrations in history, with around 15 million people forced to swap countries in a political upheaval that cost more than a million lives.

The novel follows an 80-year-old Indian woman who travels to Pakistan following the death of her husband to confront the unresolved trauma of her teenage experiences of partition and, while doing so, reevaluates what it means to be a mother, daughter, and woman.

The book was translated from Hindi by Daisy Rockwell, who shares the prize with Shree. It was the first Hindi-language novel to secure a nomination for the prize.

In her acceptance speech in London on Thursday night, Shree said that behind her was a “rich and flourishing literary tradition in Hindi, and in other South Asian languages.”

“World literature will be the richer for knowing some of the finest writers in these languages. The vocabulary of life will increase from such an interaction,” she said.

Writers in India welcomed Shree’s recognition with the same hope.

“It’s an absolutely wonderful achievement,” Arundhati Roy, one of India’s most renowned writers, told Arab News.

Namita Gokhale, director of the Jaipur Literature Festival, India’s largest literary event, said the award will bring a “much-needed understanding of Hindi literature, one of the great world literatures.”

She continued: “It will lead to more and more translation (of Hindi works). There are so many wonderful translations out there, but certainly many, many more need to be done, because there is wonderful writing happening at all levels of contemporary Hindi literature.”

For Hindi novelist Bhagwandass Morwal, Shree’s win was a “matter of great pride.”

“After the Nobel Prize, the Booker is the most recognized award for literature,” he said. “This is one Booker prize. It is the beginning. In the future we will see more.”

“Tomb of Sand” beat out five other shortlisted titles for the prize, including “The Books of Jacob” by Nobel Prize-winning Polish novelist Olga Tokarczuk and “Heaven” by Mieko Kawakami, the Japanese author best known for “Breasts and Eggs.”


‘Sending Aya Back’ — a heart-wrenching documentary about a Syrian refugee in Denmark 

‘Sending Aya Back’ — a heart-wrenching documentary about a Syrian refugee in Denmark 
Updated 28 May 2022

‘Sending Aya Back’ — a heart-wrenching documentary about a Syrian refugee in Denmark 

‘Sending Aya Back’ — a heart-wrenching documentary about a Syrian refugee in Denmark 

LONDON: UK newspaper The Guardian released a documentary film on Friday that tells the story of Aya Abu-Daher, a 19-year-old Syrian refugee in Denmark whose residence permit was revoked, leaving her facing deportation. 

“Sending Aya Back,” directed by Michael Graversen, follows Abu-Daher’s journey to Denmark and the events that unfolded after she received her deportation notice from the Danish government. 

 

 

The film is divided into nine chapters detailing some of the most notable moments in Abu-Daher’s life, including her high-school graduation, some of her TV interviews, and her appeal against the decision to revoke her residence permit. 

Abu-Daher arrived in Denmark in 2015 with her family after fleeing Syria’s Civil War. She enrolled in school and became fluent in Danish. She worked in restaurants every summer to earn enough money to support herself financially. 

 

 

Abu-Daher’s appeal process was, eventually, successful and her residency was extended for an additional two years on the grounds that her public profile would put her at risk of reprisal from Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.

However, Abu-Daher believes that her asylum was granted mainly as a result of the widespread media coverage her case received. 

 

 

In Denmark’s last election, in 2019, the victorious Social Democrats, headed by Mette Frederiksen, adopted a restrictive line on immigration. Since then, 189 Syrians have had their residence permits revoked after Copenhagen decided to re-examine the cases of around 500 people from Damascus.

Following the decision to revoke residence permits for Syrian refugees, Denmark faced heavy criticism from the international community for its tough stance. The country now has one of the most restrictive immigration policies in Europe.

 

 

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine three months ago exposed Europe’s double standards when it comes to refugees. The vast majority of European countries welcomed Ukrainian refugees with open arms — or, at least, open borders — in stark contrast to the prevailing attitudes of European governments towards migrants from outside of Europe.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Poland has taken in more than 3.3 million refugees from Ukraine since late February, with more than 900,000 refugees going to Romania, around 600,000 to Hungary, 460,000 to Moldova and 420,000 to Slovakia. 

Migrants and refugees from elsewhere trying to enter Europe, however, are still struggling to access essential services, often face discrimination and abuse, and, for many, attempts to seek sanctuary in Europe prove fatal. More than 23,000 migrants have died or disappeared since 2014 trying to reach Europe by sea, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Media outlets in the West have also faced criticism for double standards in their coverage of Ukrainian refugees. 

During an interview on the BBC, the former Ukrainian deputy chief prosecutor David Sakvarelidze said the war was “very emotional for me, because I see European people with blue eyes and blond hair being killed.”

On Al-Jazeera English, presenter Peter Dobbie made various inappropriate comments describing Ukrainians fleeing the war as “prosperous, middle-class people” who “are not obviously refugees trying to get away from areas in the Middle East that are still in a big state of war.”


Al Arabiya doubles down on Hezbollah drug trafficking report after Lebanese terror group threatens network

Al Arabiya doubles down on Hezbollah drug trafficking report after Lebanese terror group threatens network
Updated 27 May 2022

Al Arabiya doubles down on Hezbollah drug trafficking report after Lebanese terror group threatens network

Al Arabiya doubles down on Hezbollah drug trafficking report after Lebanese terror group threatens network
  • Al Arabiya stressed that all accusations cited in the Hezbollah statement are false

LONDON: Al Arabiya network denied accusations and threats made by Lebanese terror group Hezbollah in a statement issued on Thursday, which claimed that the network is peddling false information on the militia’s captagon and drug smuggling operations.

Al Arabiya stressed that all accusations cited in the Hezbollah statement are false.

It also confirmed that all reports and investigations published by its various platforms are documented and supported by trusted sources, and confirmed by audio and video files.

They were also confirmed, Al Arabiya said, by arrest warrants issued against Hezbollah members and financiers by several governments in Latin America, the US and Europe.

Al Arabiya said it would carry on with its approach by adhering to the highest professional standards, relying on documented information in its investigations and news material.

The network pointed out that Hezbollah and its members are already blacklisted for drug trafficking, money laundering, smuggling, and illegal trade in many countries around the world.


Iranian officials bribing Instagram moderators to remove accounts hostile to regime: BBC

Iranian officials bribing Instagram moderators to remove accounts hostile to regime: BBC
Updated 27 May 2022

Iranian officials bribing Instagram moderators to remove accounts hostile to regime: BBC

Iranian officials bribing Instagram moderators to remove accounts hostile to regime: BBC
  • Among those targeted was Iranian American author and activist Masih Alinejad
  • Little coverage on state media was given to the protests, but social media was awash with reports of what was happening on the ground

LONDON: Iranian intelligence officials are offering Instagram content moderators more than $10,000 to remove the accounts of journalists and activists hostile to the regime, the BBC reported on Friday.
Among those targeted was Iranian American author and activist Masih Alinejad, with one former reviewer telling BBC Persia they were offered $10,700 to delete her account.
The content moderators were speaking after an outcry among Iranian Instagram users that posts about the recent wave of anti-government protests had been deleted.
Demonstrations were held in several provinces of Iran at the start of May after a government decision to cut subsidies to basic food items caused prices to soar, with the unrest quickly leading to protesters chanting slogans against Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the country’s President Ebrahim Raisi.
Little coverage on state media was given to the protests, but social media was awash with reports of what was happening on the ground.
However, users noticed that as the unrest continued, videos started being removed, with one opposition activist, @1500tasvir, claiming in a tweet to have been informed by Instagram that their account was being limited to “protect our community.”
The former content moderator said: “I know reviewers who supported the Iranian regime and received instructions from Iran, they can independently delete a post that has been reported without facing any serious consequences.
“If an auditor realizes, at most your accuracy rate may drop by a percentage point or two.”
German-based technology company and Instagram’s moderator, Telus International, told the BBC that although it took the allegations very seriously and had launched an investigation, it also believed them to be false.
In a statement, the firm said: “Telus does not have, nor has it ever had, any ties to the Iranian government.
“Processes are in place to eliminate the ability of reviewers to insert personal or political opinions into their job. Our team members review a randomized set of content to determine if it violates our client’s policies, standards, and guidelines, removing any room for subjectivity.
“These decisions are frequently audited for accuracy and to uncover any potential biases. Additional reviews have been undertaken and have found no validity to these claims.”
Two further moderators interviewed by the BBC supported the assertion that “it was likely” some videos had been removed as they included chants of “death to Khamenei,” although one of the reviewers said the Iranians working for Telus were “decent people” who followed company guidelines.